Vernacular concepts

Clemants, Steve steveclemants at BBG.ORG
Wed Mar 2 16:41:38 CST 2005

I am fascinated by the discussion going on and feel a need to insert my
two cents.

There appear to be several possibly different concepts being put forth
as indicated by the four different terms used: vernacular names, common
names, colloquial names and English names. My definitions: Common names
are what a species is commonly called, therefore some of the "made up"
names as used in USDA should not be referred to as common; colloquial
probably means the same, an informal name for a species; vernacular
names are names in the native language, since Latin is a dead language
presumably it should be translated into the native language, in my case
English, therefore the "made up" names in USDA should properly be
referred to as English names. 

My ideal would be to use essentially a binomial system but in English.
So all Lobelia species would have lobelia in the name, all Asclepias
species would have milkweed in the name, this would be preceded by a
unique modifier such as Kalm's lobelia or swamp milkweed. But such as
standardized system for English names does not exist (at least I know of

I have recently (last week) turned in a manuscript for a wildflower
field guide and have struggled for some time with the common vs. English
names issue. While I personally always refer to plants by their Latin
name and rarely even know any other names, that is not the case for the
intended user of my book. In the end I decided to use a combination of
common and English names as well as Latin names. Where there is a common
name such as Indian Tobacco for Lobelia inflata I used it even though I
could have made a better English name (such as Indian lobelia) but for
all entries there is a common or English name as well as the Latin

My reason for not solely using Latin names was my desire to engage the
user in learning the plants and the diversity around them and less about
learning Latin. Why complicate this objective by adding a burden of
using unfamiliar Latin names in place of possibly familiar common names?


*Steven Clemants          *
*Vice President of Science*
*Brooklyn Botanic Garden  *
*1000 Washington Ave.     *
*Brooklyn, NY 11225       *
*718-623-7309             *

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